Media Manipulation: The Truth About The Gaza Death Toll

The UN’s stance on Gaza’s death toll is clear, but a coordinated media effort distorts the truth. Find out who’s behind this and why.

Controlling narratives is critical in the context of international war and the media. The UN’s reported death toll from Gaza has recently come under fire; allegations suggest that the UN dramatically reduced its numbers downward. The UN has denied this accusation, but it seems to be a part of a larger disinformation operation meant to support Israeli state propaganda and hide the truth about Palestinian suffering.

The UN promptly refuted the initial accusation that it had significantly altered the death toll from Gaza. In spite of this, the idea was not written off as a straightforward error in the media but rather as a conscious attempt at misinformation. The number of civilian deaths recorded by the Gaza Health Ministry—figures that are also cited by significant NGOs and the UN—has long been contested by pro-Israeli pundits and government representatives. These officials, frequently without supporting documentation, have written off these figures as Hamas propaganda for years.

A May 7 debate between Piers Morgan and Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman went viral, casting doubt on the Israeli story. Hyman faced severe criticism when he attempted to defend Israel’s conduct in Gaza during the interview. This event prepared the groundwork for additional fabrication of the Gaza death toll story.

Three days later, The New York Sun ran an article written by M. J. Koch, a member of the infamous rich Koch family. Koch used a May 8 United Nations infographic, which showed 34,844 deaths overall, selectively quoting it. Koch, however, falsely claimed that the 10,000 individuals reported missing were deducted from the overall death toll and instead concentrated on the breakdown of 24,686 confirmed dead, which included 4,959 women and 7,797 children. In actuality, there were documented missing people in addition to the 34,844 fatalities. Koch intentionally left out context in an attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of UN statistics.

Other media sites swiftly began to carry the misinformation. Using the same graphics, The Times of Israel published an item on May 10 that claimed a 17% decrease in women’s and children’s mortality in just two days. The post also mentioned another from May 6. Similar to Koch’s essay, this one did not discriminate between the overall and identified death tolls.

Fox News ran a widely shared item on May 13 with the headline, “UN revises Gaza death toll, almost 50% fewer women and children killed than previously reported.” The article for Fox News, authored by British-Israeli writer Ruth Marks Eglash, who has ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, focused only on the smaller number of confirmed deaths while disregarding the entire death toll. Eglash’s past assistance in reaching out to English-speaking media outlets on behalf of Israel’s UN envoy raises concerns about her reporting ethics and objectives.

The New York Post swiftly republished the false Fox News story with the explosive headline, “UN admits Gaza death toll wrong, with almost 50% fewer women, children killed than previously reported.” This misleading story quickly gained traction on social media and was supported by organizations such as the publicly financed CBC in Canada. In a piece that seemed to validate the narrative, the CBC hinted that the UN had really altered the number of deaths.

In response to the spreading misinformation, the UN clarified its data, reinforcing the accuracy of its records. On the same day, the Israeli government, for the first time in nearly eight months of conflict, released a statistic for civilian casualties in Gaza. This announcement was made by Avi Hyman, the same spokesperson who had been challenged by Piers Morgan just days earlier.

It appears that there was a concerted attempt to sway public opinion, given the timing of Israel’s announcement of its civilian death toll statistic and the disinformation campaign directed at the UN. The purpose of this effort was likely to manipulate the conflict’s narrative and divert public attention away from the true extent of Palestinian suffering.

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47